Iran and the major world powers participating in the agreement to keep Tehran from developing nuclear weapons said Friday they were ready to welcome the return of the United States to the deal.
The group — the European Union, China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain and Iran — “recognized the prospect of a full return of the U.S. to the JCPOA, and underlined their readiness to positively address this in a joint effort,” the chair of a meeting of high-level officials said, referring to the acronym for the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The participants said they “emphasized their commitment to preserve the JCPOA and discussed modalities to ensure the return to its full and effective implementation,” according to a statement after their virtual meeting,
The group said they would resume further talks Tuesday in Vienna on the 2015 agreement, “in order to clearly identify sanctions lifting and nuclear implementation measures.”
U.S. officials had no immediate public comment, but Washington on Thursday welcomed the news that the Europeans would be meeting with the Iranians to try to get talks going again. State Department spokesman Ned Price called that development “a positive step.”
President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, and President Joe Biden has said rejoining the agreement is a priority for his administration. The Biden administration and Iran have differed on any conditions for that to happen, including the timing of the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Friday’s statement from the EU-chaired meeting said the group’s coordinator “will also intensify separate contacts in Vienna” with all participants of the nuclear agreement and the United States.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif immediately stressed that no meeting was planned between officials from Iran and the U.S
In a tweet, Zarif said the aim of the Vienna session would be “rapidly finalize sanction-lifting & nuclear measures for choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures.”
He added for good measure: “No Iran-US meeting. Unnecessary.”
Iranian state television quoted Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s nuclear negotiator at the virtual meeting, as saying during Friday’s discussions meeting that any “return by the U.S. to the nuclear deal does not require any negotiation and the path is quite clear.”
“The U.S. can return to the deal and stop breaching the law in the same way it withdrew from the deal and imposed illegal sanctions on Iran,” Araghchi was quoted as as saying.
Russia’s ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, said that “the impression is that we are on the right track, but the way ahead will not be easy and will require intensive efforts. The stakeholders seem to be ready for that.”
Any return of the United States would involve complications.
Iran has been steadily violating the restrictions of the deal, like the amount of enriched uranium it can stockpile and the purity to which it can enrich it. Tehran’s moves have been calculated to put pressure on the other nations in the deal — Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain — to do more to offset crippling sanctions reimposed under Trump.
Iran has said that before it resumes compliance with the deal, the U.S. needs to return to its own obligations under the deal by dropping the sanctions.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that over the past two years, Iran has accumulated a lot of nuclear material and new capacities, and used the time for “honing their skills in these areas.”
The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something it insists it doesn’t want to do. Iran now has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, but nowhere near the amount it had before the nuclear deal was signed.
As part of its ongoing violations of the JCPOA, Iran last month began restricting IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities. Under a last-minute deal worked out during a trip to Tehran, however, some access was preserved.
Under that temporary agreement, Iran will no longer share surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities with the IAEA, but it has promised to preserve the tapes for three months. It will then hand them over to the Vienna-based U.N. atomic watchdog if it is granted sanctions relief. Otherwise, Iran has vowed to erase the tapes, narrowing the window for a diplomatic breakthrough.